tv [untitled] February 10, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
>> the meeting is now called to order. good evening, today is monday, february 7, 2011. this is a special joint meeting of the building inspection commission and the small business commission. at this time i would like to remind everyone to please turn off all electronic devised. the first item on the agenda is roll call. my name is ann aherne, i am secretary of the building inspection commission. i will call on the commissioners. [roll call] >> for your information, commissioners, lee and mar will be sharing a microphone.
we have a quorum and the secretary to the small business commission will now take roll call for the s.b.c. [roll call] >> we have a quorum. >> we have a quorum on both sides. the next item on the agenda is item number two. welcome and opening remarks from each commission president. building inspection commission president mel murphy will speak first followed by the small business commission president, luke o'brien. president murphy: good evening, fellow commissioners. thank you for being here for
this joint meeting of the b.i.c. and the small business commission. i want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here. the objective of this hearing today, commissioners, is to understand and become educated on how the process works in various city agencies that can we, the b.i.c. and s.b.c. do to make life easier for everyone. it is hard to think of anything more important for small business and the business community and to include, i want to include the homeowners who are waiting to remodel a bathroom, kitchen, the smaller
contractor who does horizontal additions and the list on this evening's agenda. the items are environmental exemption review process, appeals that come before the board of supervisors, d.p.w. permit applications and the online tracking system and a.d.a. i would like this evening to be about discovery and education. we are all members of san francisco community. let us make it a productive evening. in conclusion, i hope to have another meeting sometime soon with the planning department. they were unable to get ready for this one, so we hope to
have a meeting with them in the near future. some of the people from a.d.a. approached me in the last few days and they were wondering why we had the a.d.a. so far down on the agenda, so i would like, i'm sure it's on there because of scheduling and maybe, virginia, you could answer that. virginia. >> yes, commissioner, murphy. a.d.a. was scheduled on the agenda as the last item primarily because it was an informational item and since it's department staff that is already here and part of the meeting that is going to be presenting, the decision was to put to put it at the end of the meeting. president murphy: ok, thank you. that's it for me.
>> president o'brien. president o'brien: we're all here on a busy schedule so i won't further delay the proceedings. we can just get started right away other than to echo what has already been said. really, the intention of this evening is to understand the processes that take place every day for people who do business in san francisco, whether it's the small business community that is running a restaurant, starting a grocery store, drapery shop, whatever it is, or somebody is trying to get a permit or a homeowner trying to remodel a bathroom or whatever. they interact with nearly every single agency in town whether it's health services or d.p.w. or d.b.i. or planning department or many of the other agencies. it's just about forming a baseline today of getting an understanding of how they do their work and the issues that
they come up against that could be improved upon, try to discover that, try to learn about it and see if we can do things better and then hopefully, you know, we will continue this discussion again as was mentioned with the planning department and we'll today as a baseline for what we learn as something to work off of in the future. that's what it's about this evening, discovery and education. thank you. >> do we have any public comment on this item? seeing none, we can move on to item number three, commission discussion regarding the environmental review/exemption, zoning districts and associated regulations. and we are going to hear from dan sider from the planning department.
>> good evening, dan sider with planning department staff. commissioners, thank you for having me here tonight and please let me forward the regrets of the planning commission in regards to the scheduling issues that prevented them from joining you as well tonight. the planning commission president and the vice president do see the value in conducting a three-part joint hearing with you all and certainly from the planning department staff perspective, we do want to help arrange this and we do think that it could be extremely productive. your invitation, commissioners, to tonight's hearing contained a really thorough and excellent set of questions about zoning and about state ceqa law and about the state legislative process and about processes
internal to the planning department. because of the very wide breadth of this request, i don't have a formal presentation to offer the commissions here tonight, but going forward, so that we can offer you a meaningful response in the future and at the request of our planning director, i am here to learn from you and should you wish, help narrow down and refine your areas of interest into more manageable chunks that we could really use to have a constructive discussion at a future meeting involving all three commissions. with that said, president murphy, president o'brien, i would respectfully turn to you. thank you for your time and certainly make myself available for any comments or responses to questions should you so wish.
president murphy: commissioners. president o'brien: if there is no questions from any of the commissioners, just so everybody understands, we had hoped to have, as the gentleman said, mr. sider said, three-way commission hearing and we didn't realize or reoverlooked the fact that the planning commission meets on a weekly basis which is more than these two commissions meet and so time is more of an issue for them. so we decided we should go ahead with this meeting because we have other issues to discuss as well as just getting a baseline on discovery of what we might talk about in the future with the planning commission. i would definitely like to ask some questions if i may that would help drive things forward the next time.
there are lots of people in the development community who will always first and foremost try to get what is referred to as an environmental exemption. it makes a big difference for those of you that may not be familiar with the process because if the project becomes subject to the environmental -- or fails the environmental exemption test, for a lot of people, they'll sarcastically refer to it as a death nell on the project. i with would like you to weigh in on the project because it can delay the project literally for years. we would like to understand, some of the questions is how much of the process is controlled at the local city level, how much of it is controlled at the state level. we realize that when we want to help our local community in san
francisco, the state mandates tie our hands a little bit. are there other things we can do at the local level, and learning about the process, we need to learn the process that we might do that might help the process if you know what i'm talking about? >> president o'brien, thank you for asking that question. this is, as you said, the crux of many issues with respect to mid and larger size and frankly small development projects. as you had alluded to, this does stem from the california environment quality act. it's a state legislation that display very broadly throughout the state. what i might like to present to my commission, the planning commission for their discussion and what we could ajendize for a future meeting is the interplay between ceqa as exists on the state level and the implementation of it
locally. we are very bound in terms of what we can and can't do on a local level by not only, of course, the state law, but continued court rulings that effect what we must consider, how we must review projects. so i think this is an excellent suggestion for a future agenda item. president o'brien: and when it kicks in, would you be able to educate us on what kicks in and what gets an exemption an are the decisions that are around that process and how many parties get involved in that process around the planning department to make that decision, because sometimes it seems, you know, that i have seen projects where the environmental exemption got granted, it took a long time. in this city where we pride ourselves on the sunshine ordinance and open government, it was a real mysterious
process to me that i'm still totally in the dark about it. if i'm in the dark, i think most people probably are. it would be nice to know just the life of a project from when it gets into the planning department to when it gets back out. let's say we'll assume that it's going to get the environment exemption. what does the life of a project look like as it goes through its path at the planning department. that would be very helpful this evening. >> sure, there are three main functional units within the planning department. m.e.a., which is the major environmental analysis unit, they handle ceqa which is the issue that we're, of course, speaking to right noux the second of the three units is the neighborhood planning division handling the actual entitlement process, permit review, design review, code compliance. the third unit is the citywide policy planning group. in general terms, this third group focuses on long-range
planning processes, rezoning, policy moves that are broader than a single project. and, again, depending on the particular project and the scope of that project, we could have and we oftentimes do have all three of these units providing input. neighborhood planning from a developer's perspective serving oftentimes as the lead unit for the simple fact that it's the staff in that unit that review the project vis-a-vis the planning code and certain guidelines. certainly the m.e.a. staff with respect to ceqa and the application of it here and further to your specific question, the m.e.a. question off the top of my head is probably about 30 people with the management staff and an environmental review officer at the he had of that unit. ultimately it is the e.r.o., the environmental review offer who charged with making a determination via an exemption or the need for further type of
review. the third and final, the citywide policy group oftentimes becomes involved in larger projects, particularly those that require or suggest rezoning. while they are focused on broader, again nonproject specific issues for a majority of their time when projects come along that do affect the broader neighborhood or have the potential to be of a bigger scale than other smaller projects, it's always important to now how they fit into the framework, to revisit that and to understand whether it needs further adjusting. president o'brien: would every project typically go through all of them, all three groups? would a project be interacted by all three groups, yes? >> the answer is a complex one. certainly a large project would. a smaller project, a rear deck addition wouldn't imply changes to citywide zoning policies and so forth, so it might only come
to the neighborhood planning group for design compliance and the m.e.a. group tone sure that it does receive the proper level of review under ceqa. president o'brien: ok, that's helpful, thank you. commissioner mar: commissioner walker. commissioner walker: thank you. thank you for coming and starting this discussion. we as the building commission have been discussing our own process, especially those issues that involved planning. one of the things, especially from small business that we have heard is that it would be helpful when someone applies for permits to know how long the process is going to take. so we have a little bit more to say about it as it relates to our department, but once we let go of the project and the application and it goes to planning, there is no way to know. so when you come back and discuss this, i think that
would be an important point to try and encapsulate in your presentation how long it might take, how long people might expect, especially when small businesses are opening for the first time, it may help them decide whether to do it in one location or another if they know the process is going to take a certain amount of time. i think that i hope that we can commit to that in our department and i would hope that you could partner with us in helping provide that, not just to small business, but to anybody applying for a permit. president murphy: commissioners. commissioner hechanova. vice president hechanova: of the eastern neighborhoods in the northeast waterfront associated with the potential and upcoming america's cup, are there the challenges of the
ceqa and anything along the waterfront that basically becomes a stumbling block for what is a timeline that has a deadline that has no need for a hiccup? >> this is an excellent point. of course, the city is embarking on environmental review for activities related to the america's cup, not being intimately familiar with what the proposal is or what the level of review is, i can't speak to the details, but certainly we are compelled again under state law to examine the range of potential impacts, if there are any, from the america's cup and prepare a suitable document. i would say that experience would suggest that whatever level of review, whatever document is produced would be subject to review by third parties. my colleagues in other agencies
may speak to later, there are avenues for appeal to the board of supervisors and subsequent opportunities to revisit the issue through the courts. with respect to the northeast waterfront, my apologies, i'm not intimately familiar with the project, but my understanding is there is a document that the document produced late last year relating statescape and public realm issues, and that there are no particular capital projects or particular project of any kind contained in that report that we had generated. rather it's a set of principals and concepts to consider when projects do subsequently move forward in that plan area. commissioners, does that respond at least somewhat to your question? i'm sorry. vice president hechanova: i think it's more of the timeline associated with some of the small business development that is going to be occurring associated with america's cup.
>> i know that our city attorney is in the room, so i think my response would be that we would assess individual projects as appropriate and if there were to be proposals independent of the america's cup proposal, we would treat them as separate and move forward from that point. vice president hechanova: thank you. a small
business community might understand our 2000-page planning code. how someone might go about even beginning to wrap their head around the process behind a review and approval. we have 73 different zoning districts in san francisco. each of those on a unique set of crols. we also have 74 special use districts. these are overlays that apply on top of various districts, with further regulations. general more stricter regulations. not entirely. beyond this, we have historic districts that you've alluded to, each with priorities and contexts that are critical. this is just a flavor.
there is no one single guide. there is a tremendous desire to communicate better with the public and we continue to seek funding with staff so that we can communicate better with the small business and the neighborhood and the other critical communities. but directly to your question, no, there is no single guide to help one navigate this process. >> did you have a question? president o'brien: i don't know if you were around the time a few years ago, but the planning department brought in a third party independent auditor to go through the whole planning department, and no offense to anybody in this, but the first opening recommendation was get rid of the planning code. which is the document that contains all of what we use to tell us what we can and can't
do. do you think it's at all possible to try to take on a project that would try to simplify it? is it just impossible, or is it worth -- do you think it's worth investing -- investigating that possibility? i'll put it that way. a tough question, i know. >> it's a good question. it's a very good question. i don't think it would be stepping too far out of my planning department's shoes to say that there is a general acknowledgment that the planning code is extremely complex. perhaps overly complex. there was an effort to start from scratch, make it logical. making it a document that is useful to everyone.
that project failed. there certainly is continued discussion of doing what you're described. president o'brien: do we know why it failed? >> it's something we can discuss at our next item. president o'brien: can we put that on there? >> yeah, absolutely. i would just say that staff perhaps to a certain extent shares the frustration, commissioners, with you and others. we acknowledge the code is at times confusing and challenging. and we would welcome this discussion. i would perhaps as a final note on this point towards recent hearings at the board of supervisors for code changes. allowing full service restaurants. or be they large at the eastern neighborhoods. they are, as you know, extremely controversial. the eastern neighborhoods, which was a massive rezoning project. took about 10 years.
i've heard folks suggest that by the time the eastern neighborhoods did come to fruition, the issues that it sought to deal with were they had already come and gone. i only mention these things to highlight perhaps issues that could crop up should this project gain steam and move forward. i will put this down as an item that will be a great topic for discussion at the next hearing. president o'brien: we'll talk some more about what could open that meeting. mr. cider, one of the things i would like to see improvement on is communication between planning and d.b.i. there's never been very good communication. we have meeting, i'm not sure how often they are.
we never get any planning there, even though our director asking for someone there. it's like, d.b.i. really doesn't matter, we're not that important. i'd just like to assure you that we are the ones that paid for that trump tower that you guys live in over there. d.b.i. paid for that. so we'd like a little bit more respect. i don't want to shoot the messenger here. you must be the smartest guy they have. but thank you for your presentation. president murphy: public comments, please. commissioner romero: this has come up at past meetings, communication having to go
across the d.b.i. and planning department. i really would say the question you really have to direct that to, you have to direct it to the mayor's office. realistically, you have two departments, and if they're not talking to each other, my understanding is that planning and d.b.i. have meetings every week or every couple weeks, management meetings. and if they're not talking to each other there, then there is a problem. but i completely agree. i think it would be best for d.b.i. if there was a better communication between the two, but i don't think that's something that we can force unless the mayor's office is willing to do that. president murphy: are you saying we have two dysfunctional families here? commissioner romero: no, i didn't say that at all. commissioner walker: i think as we talk about the permit tracking system and that we are working together with planning and the other departments, i
think that's a really good way to maybe officialize the conversation between our departments with the data management system common between us. that will help. president o'brien: agreed. it could be a problem in the discussion. but one real simple question, straight forward answer, i'd like to ask. when it goes from the d.b.i. to the planning department, is that in an envelope and walked across, or does it come over electronically? >> both, president. certainly we have sort of a routine transfer for building permits. they are transferred from and to d.b.i. and planning. but when it does come to messages, of course, i think that as commissioner walker pointed out the need to radically modernize, perhaps, is a way o